India – Bhubaneswar

After relaxing in Kolkata we start heading South of India in search of some nature and warmer weather. Our train for Bhubaneswar leaves without delay this time (yes!). Our coach neighbors are quiet and don’t converse too much, until a very talkative young man boards the train. We don’t have accommodation booked yet, so he suggests we go together to his hotel and check it out. He explains he is visiting his newborn nephew and is boarding a plane the following day, but that a good friend of his lives in town and they will go out tonight. He invites us to join him and his friend for dinner. At first we are a bit doubtful since it is too much kindness all of a sudden and we’ve read some terrible stories of tourists being robbed or even kidnapped. The man is only offering to check his hotel though so we decide to accept.

As we arrive to the station, we all board a tuc tuc to the hotel, and he insists on paying the ride fare. We leave our bags at the front desk and check the room, but it is a bit overpriced so we explore the area a bit while Kumar (that’s his name) relaxes and kills some time until dinner. As we come back, he appears from a very fancy car. A driver very kindly places our backpacks in the trunk. In the copilot seat is Kumar’s friend. They say we are going to a very fancy hotel for dinner. Looks like we’ll be showing our backpackers’ glamour yet again, with no time for a shower and wondering if we’ll be able to afford this…

We enter. The decor is even fancier than the hotel we stayed at in Lucknow, but luckily we can hide our messy looks at the pub in the back of the gardens, where there is nobody else. Kumar’s buddy is a good customer here so we are treated as if we belonged to some royal family.
Our hosts are predisposed to get drunk tonight, and so are we it seems. Beer flows nonstop as a glass gets empty. The food is delicious and there is always something new coming to the table.
We have nice and interesting conversations with Kumar while we think how random all this is and how fun it is for things to turn the way they do sometimes.
When the moment to pay arrives, there is an infinite discussion, everyone with money or cards in hand, but we are not “allowed” to put a rupee of ours. We all go back together to Kumar’s hotel, then are dropped off at ours, with tons of offerings of help if we ever need anything.
This was one of those totally unexpected situations that you experience when traveling that make you feel welcome and taken care of, and we are forever thankful.

Our new friends.

Our new friends.

Temples of Bhubaneswar

The following day, as you can imagine, we are tired so the sightseeing gets delayed to late afternoon. There are many different temples in the city, almost all of them having free admission. Since we start late, we don’t have time to see them all and we choose randomly an area where temples are close to each other.

We start with Najarani temple, where the guard is absent but appears out of nowhere and very quickly to make us pay. In the interior there are only pigeons, but outside this small building is pretty cool.

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We move on to Mukateshwar across the street. The floor is wet because of the rain so our lazy mode gets activated and we stay on the grass outside while keeping our shoes on. After talking a bit with the locals and taking some pictures we move on to the next complex.

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The only downside of visiting temples and religious buildings is that some of the areas are only allowed to Hindus, so we can’t see the most impressive halls. This is the case for the Lingaraj Mandir compound, where a couple of guardian lions flank the entrance. Their distinctive feature is a thick black mustache, which gives them a majestic but somehow comical touch.

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Next to them, some vendors are crafting candles made of ghee inside clay receptacles with Shiva’s phallus shape. They proudly explain how they make them and what other items they have for sale.

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One man kindly approaches and with some Hindi vendor dark magic we end up in his shop. He sells all kinds of arts and crafts specific to the state of Orisha, which is native to different tribal groups. However, our attention is caught by some very nice scrolls. The vendor explains: Crafters flatten and dry palm leaves that are later joined and delicately carved with very thin layers of drawings, usually with gods and idols from Hinduism. The borders are then drawn with black ink, and they are just full of small details. Sometimes you can even open and close some sections, similar to children’s books where you can lift the window to see a character hidden behind it. The vendor dark magic is powerful and some of the scrolls fall into our bag before going back to our hotel.

One section of the store that caught my attention.

One section of the store that caught my attention.

The next day is our last in Bhubaneswar but we don’t want to leave without visiting Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves. They are located far from the center of the city, but in a good elevated position to get a nice view. The rocks are divided in different rooms that served for different purposes, like meditation or shelter, and some of the sculptures carved outside are very detailed. They sure are popular, crowded of people and therefore full of trash everywhere. We don’t have a guide so we go with the flow. At the top there are some monkeys that get stuffed with fruits and other munchies people buy for them. They have an easy life these ones.

The entrance of the caves.

The entrance of the caves.

Rooms are carved inside the rock.

Rooms are carved inside the rock.

A banana seller is scolding a monkey for staying too long over somebody's hat.

A banana seller is scolding a monkey for staying too long over somebody’s hat.

Meet Ms. Monkey.

Meet Ms. Monkey.

Ms. Monkey Lord style.

Ms. Monkey Lord style.

This cave reminds me to Monkey Island.

This cave reminds me to Monkey Island.

View of the temple from the caves.

View of the temple from the caves.

Some carved elephants at the entrance of other caves.

Some carved elephants at the entrance of other caves.

The big caves seen from below.

The big caves seen from below.

Hundreds of plastics. At the other side there is a sign asking not to trash plastics...

Hundreds of plastics. At the other side there is a sign asking not to trash plastics…

After checking out the rest of the caves, it is time to go towards the bus onto the near town of Puri.

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